Brasov, Bran and Rasov. 2011.
We spent a very happy four days in Brasov. The train journey there from Bucharest was very scenic especially around the Sinaia area. The town of Brasov was known as Kronstadt to the medieval Saxons and Brasso to the Hungarians. It currently bills itself as probably the best city in the world who knows they may be right; it was certainly very beautiful.
Brasov was an important and wealthy trading town in Saxon times. More recently in November 1987 and December 1989 it was the scene of violent riots sparked off by the economic collapse during these turbulent times. You can still see bullet holes in some of the beautiful old buildings on Strada Republicii. Nowadays Brasov is much more peaceful and a major Transylvanian tourist destination.
Brasov has a lot of beautiful sights: its main town square, the beautiful black church, its colourful park, its citadel, its old city walls, towers and gates with their spectacular view points, its cable car, the Schei Valley with its beautiful fairytale church. It is also a wonderful base from which to visit Bran Castle, Rasnov Fortress, Sinaia and the ski resort of Poiana Brasov.
Piata Sfatului or the Old Town Square.
There was always something going on in the old town square: be it armed guards in medieval costume escorting the trumpeters for their serenade from the old town hall tower at 6pm (no idea if this happens daily or not), concerts with bands and choirs (occurred from 7pm Saturday not sure if it is daily), the produce market - Saturdays, or just the general comings and goings of locals and tourists. There are many beautiful buildings on the square: the old town hall, the black church, the orthodox cathedral, as well as many hotels and restaurants. There was also a lovely fountain and some great views towards some of the city's towers.
Behind the city walls.
Near the Schei gate on the right hand side as you face the Schei quarter there is a lovely walkway which passes some of Brasov's old towers, walls and gates. You can cross the stream and climb up to the Black Tower and White Tower for spectacular views over Brasov's old town and its huge black church. The views from here were one of the main highlights of Brasov for me.
The Schei Quarter.
During Saxon times the Romanian speaking population had to live outside Brasov's city walls in the Schei Quarter. They could only enter Brasov through the Schei Gate and had to pay a toll to do so. The Schei quarter has a beautiful church the Church of St Nicholas which reminded me of Sleeping Beauty's castle. There is a war memorial in the main square. The museum of the first Romanian school is here, too but we did not visit this.
Str. Sforii or Rope Street.
Str Sforii is the narrowest street in Brasov and in Romania. It is a short walk east of the main square just off Str. Porta Schei near the synagogue. It is just 1.3m wide. You can reach out and touch both of its walls at the same time.
You can take a cable car up Mount Tampa for views over the whole of Brasov. The cable car runs from Tues to Fri 9am 5.30pm and Saturday and Sunday 9am to 6pm. You can go up and walk back down, apparently it takes around an hour to walk down and is rather slippy (we were told by some fellow tourists) though we were lazy and just paid 15RON to go and come back by cable car. There is a little cafe at the top of the cable car. When you reach the top you must walk off to the right for about 10 minutes to reach the viewing platform, located just behind the V of the Brasov sign. The view was scenic but the viewing platform was really small and got very crowded so we did not feel we could linger long.
It is worth doing the short climb up the zigzag path, near the orthodox church, on the far side of Central Park up to Brasov's citadel. The citadel is now a restaurant. We stopped for a drink here and the surroundings were calm and relaxing. There are good views from the citadel's viewpoints. You can just look at the views without having a drink or food if you prefer.
This park is a beautiful flower filled place. It is a great place to sit and relax, or watch the old men playing chess, or look at the lovely nearby orthodox church. It is really very peaceful and quiet here.
This street has some lovely old buildings and is filled with restaurants, cafes and bars. Hard to believe it was once the scene of riots and fighting during the 1987 and 1989 economic collapse of Romania.
Bran is a small town located 28KM southwest of Brasov. We went here on a day trip from Brasov. We got there by taking a bus from Brasov bus station number 2. The ticket cost 6RON. Buses leave at 9am, 10am, 11am; then at half hourly intervals finishing around 7 (I think). The front of the bus will say Bran, but its final destination is the little village of Moeciu. Our bus to Bran was horribly overcrowded but it was fine coming back. The bus also passes through Rasov with its lovely fortress on a hill.
Most people visit Bran to go to its famous castle which is sold as Dracula's castle, but this is probably not true. The castle has only slight links with Vlad Tepes, the person on whom the Dracula legend is based. It is billed as Dracula's castle to make money from tourism and because of its secret passages, windy staircases etc. The castle was built between 1377 and 1382 by the Saxons of Brasov to protect their trade route with Wallachia. The most famous occupant of the castle was Queen Marie of Romania. She was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. She married Prince Ferdinand of Romania in 1893. She was a much loved monarch. The castle is built around a central courtyard with a little wishing well. It is a beautiful building with furnished rooms, spiral stairs, secret passages and good views. The castle is open May to Oct: Mon noon 6pm,Tues to Sun 9am to 6pm; Nov to April: Tues to Sun 9am to 4pm. Entry is 10 Ron for adults.
Bran Castle Grounds.
There is a pond and some old Romanian buildings in the grounds of Bran Castle. A tourist had actually dropped her bag in the pond and some locals helped her to fish it out. No easy task in that murky water. Still she was delighted. It probably had her passport and money inside.
The town of Bran has a souvenir market and several restaurants and cafes. It is a good place to spend half a day. The souvenir market is just outside the entrance to Bran Castle. It is quite interesting to browse around in with its traditional and colourful souvenirs. We did not actually buy anything here. One of the joys of living in Hong Kong is that you really have no room for any form of souvenirs.
Photographing Bran Castle.
It is hard to get a good shot of the outside of Bran Castle from the grounds of the castle as it is mainly blocked by trees. We got some good shots by exiting the castle, passing the market, going left and left again past the bus stop down the hill past some restaurants, over a little bridge and into a field with an old tower. When you cross the field and look back, you have a good view of the castle.
Getting to Bran.
We got there by taking a bus from Brasov bus station number 2. The ticket cost 6RON. Buses leave at 9am, 10am, 11am then at half hourly intervals finishing around 7 (I think). The front of the bus will say Bran, but its final destination is the little village of Moeciu. Our bus to Bran was horribly overcrowded but it was fine coming back. The bus also passes through Rasov with its lovely fortress on a hill.
If you travel by bus from Brasov to Bran Castle you will pass through the town of Rasnov. It has a beautiful ruined fortress perched on a hill top high above it. Bran and Rasnov can be visited on the same day. The fortress was built around 1225 by Teutonic knights. It is now partially ruined. The town of Rasnov also has a large church and some pleasant restaurants and cafes. There is a camp site there and caves nearby but we did not visit them.
The main reason to visit Rasnov is to go to the fortress. You get to Rasnov by taking a bus from Brasov bus station. You can get to the fortress by walking up the main road towards it from the bus stop, then passing through an archway with a little cafe inside. There are steep stairs going up the hillside near the cafe. These stairs disappear in part and on some patches you are walking on steep slippy rocks. I had slippery sandals on and was all over the place. If you don't fancy that route you can walk along the side of the main road. First go to the church turn right, then off to the left (there are a couple of sign posts). You will eventually reach a gasthaus near a camp site. From the far side of the camp site you can walk up to the fortress from near the camp site. Or you can pay to take a little train pulled by a tractor up if you are feeling tired or lazy. We came down by this road route as our way up was slippy. The fort has a museum inside which we did not visit. My guide book tells me it is open from 8am to 8pm and costs the equivalent of 1 Euro 50 to go in. We were happy just to enjoy the views and look at the fortress walls. The fortress was founded around 1225 by Teutonic knights.
Climbing the Fortress.
You'll be fine taking the roadway up on foot, but if you take the steep route through the archway, wear sensible non-slippy shoes. It is easy to turn your ankle on this route. We choose not to come back down this way as it was so slippy.
Bus To Rasnov.
The bus to Bran passes throught Rasnov first. We went by this bus. We got to Rasov and Bran by taking a bus from Brasov bus station number 2. The ticket cost 6RON. Buses leave a 9am, 10am, 11am then at half hourly intervals finishing around 7 (I think). The front of the bus will say Bran, but its final destination is the little village of Moeciu. There was the choice of several other buses from other places coming back from Rasov, just get on anything that says Brasov.